Reform movements (1877 to 1914)
In your response, you will be assessed on the following.
Respond to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis or claim that establishes a line of reasoning.
Describe a broader historical context relevant to the prompt.
Support an argument in response to the prompt using all but one of the documents.
Use at least one additional piece of specific historical evidence (beyond that found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt.
For at least three documents, explain how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument.
Use evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the prompt
Evaluate the extent to which reform movements changed United States society in the period from 1877 to 1914.
Sample Paper Answer
During the period from 1877 to 1914, reform movements changed the United States society to a significant extent, leading to greater governmental intervention in the economy, an expansion of women’s rights, and the emergence of the Populist Party. The Populist Party platform called for the government to establish postal savings banks, own and operate railroads, telegraphs, and telephones, and prevent monopolization of land for speculative purposes, while Mary Church Terrell’s account demonstrates the emergence of Black women’s activism. Jacob Riis’s photograph depicts the harsh reality of child labor, which eventually led to the creation of child labor laws. However, William Graham Sumner argues that the accumulation of great fortunes is necessary for social advancement, thereby opposing the reform movements’ principles.
The broader historical context of the period from 1877 to 1914 was the Gilded Age, characterized by economic expansion, industrialization, and urbanization. The country witnessed a massive influx of immigrants, and the economy transformed from an agricultural-based to an industrial-based economy. The rapid economic growth led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and the new industrial working class struggled to receive fair wages, safe working conditions, and worker rights. The political landscape was dominated by political machines, corruption, and political patronage, leading to a call for political reform.
The Populist Party platform, as demonstrated in Document 2, reflects the reformers’ call for greater government intervention to regulate the economy, prevent monopolies, and protect the working class. Mary Church Terrell’s account in Document 6 highlights the emergence of Black women’s activism, challenging the gender and race norms of the time. Jacob Riis’s photograph in Document 4 depicts the harsh reality of child labor, which eventually led to the creation of child labor laws, while Robert La Follette’s speech in Document 5 calls for reform in the political system, stating that the lawmakers cannot be relied upon to regulate corporations and equalize the burden of taxation.
However, William Graham Sumner’s argument in Document 1 directly opposes the reform movements’ principles, stating that the accumulation of great fortunes is necessary for social advancement, and that the successful business leaders are as rare as great generals. This view of Sumner reflects the ideology of Social Darwinism, which argued that the wealthy and powerful individuals were the most fit and deserving of their success.
In conclusion, the reform movements during the period from 1877 to 1914 changed the United States society significantly, leading to greater governmental intervention in the economy, the expansion of women’s rights, and the emergence of the Populist Party. The economic and social transformation of the Gilded Age led to the call for political reform, challenged the traditional gender and race norms, and led to the creation of child labor laws. However, the opposition of Social Darwinism, as advocated by Sumner, continued to challenge the reform movements’ principles.
La Follette, R. (1897). Speech on Political Issues. Madison, WI.
Riis, J. A. (1905). Child labor in the tenements. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Sumner, W. G. (1883). What social classes owe to each other. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.
Terrell, M. C. (1904). Lynching from a Negro’s Point of View. The North American Review, 179(587), 54-63.
The Populist Party. (1892). Omaha Platform. Omaha, NE.